UNITED STATES: SpaceX has successfully conducted a “cold engine” start for its powerful Starship in conditions mimicking the frigid lunar environment. This critical test, carried out at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, demonstrated the restart capability of SpaceX’s Raptor engine after departing Earth, ensuring the safe transit of astronauts to the moon’s surface.
The test marks a pivotal stride for SpaceX, which is tasked with facilitating the Artemis 3 crew’s lunar descent aboard the Starship, slated for either 2025 or 2026, according to NASA officials. The company posted a captivating video on X (formerly Twitter), showcasing the steaming-cold Raptor engine roaring to life.
Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation spacecraft for deep-space missions, embarked on its maiden voyage in April, launching the largest and most potent rocket ever constructed. However, the endeavour encountered complications, culminating in a controlled detonation and a scattering of debris in the vicinity.
Following a rigorous investigation supervised by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), SpaceX swiftly addressed 57 of the 63 identified corrective actions. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, hinted at a swift relaunch, with the remaining remedies earmarked for future missions.
While Starship hurtles toward readiness, NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free cautioned that Artemis 3 could proceed even if Starship is not moon-landing ready by 2025. Free proposed an alternative mission sans lunar landing, reserving Starship for a future endeavor, akin to the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Artemis 3, the third installment in NASA’s Artemis program, embodies a collaborative effort with international partners under the Artemis Accords, pledging commitment to lunar exploration and peaceful space norms.
The preceding mission, Artemis 1, witnessed an unmanned NASA Orion spacecraft circumnavigating the moon in late 2022. Artemis 2 is slated to dispatch three NASA astronauts and a Canadian counterpart on an orbit around the moon no earlier than November 2024.
SpaceX’s designation as the primary vendor for Artemis 3 and Artemis 4 under NASA’s Human Landing System award in April 2021 initially sparked controversy among competitors. Blue Origin, in conjunction with Dynetics, raised protests, which were later overturned, while Blue Origin pursued legal recourse.
Following the resolution of legal matters, SpaceX’s contract progressed, with the Senate Appropriations Committee subsequently advocating for a second company to contribute to the crewed Artemis lander.
As SpaceX surges forward in lunar exploration, eyes remain fixed on the heavens, anticipating further milestones in the journey toward mankind’s return to the moon.